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345 Book Reviews Allen Tate: A Study in Southern Modernism and the Religious Imagination. Joseph Kuhn. Series Filologia 32. Adam Mickiewicz UP, 2009. 524 pp. $45.00 paper. IT MAY COME AS A SURPRISE TO SEE A RECENT AND LENGTHY STUDY OF THE work of Allen Tate and his influence on Southern letters emerge from Poland. Joseph Kuhn is a professor in the School of English at Adam Mickiewicz University (whose press is the publisher). We who have been engaged in what Lewis Simpson called “Southern self-interpretation” take for granted much that is perhaps unfamiliar to those outside the South. Yet a shift in perspective can teach us things we ourselves are inclined to overlook. It is one of the numerous merits of Kuhn’s book that it poses questions that might not occur to a self-interpreter to ask and highlights relationships that familiarity has kept us from probing. For this reason alone, the book makes interesting reading, though it does a great deal more. After an introduction entitled “A Model of Order,” in which Kuhn explores the implications of the Old South as “a metaphor of spiritual and artistic community,” he offers four stages in the sources, development, maturation, and influence of Tate’s thought: “Beginnings in New England,” “The Two Masters,” “A Modernist Metaphysical: Tate’s Poetry,” and “The Historical Imagination.” The first section offers a good example of what commentators on Southern literature seem to have overlooked: the neo-medievalism of that class of scholars in the nineteenth century called the “Boston Brahmins,” in particular that of Henry Adams, who represented “an awkward paternity” for both T. S. Eliot and Tate. Kuhn has some very acute observations about the crisis of historical relativism that Adams addressed but failed to solve. Nevertheless, his writings provided an important,ifambiguous,precedentfor“traditionalistmodernism.”Eliot, a combination of collateral Brahmin through his New England ancestry and quasi-Southerner because of Missouri’s uncertain regional status, depicted Adams’s dilemma in his “Gerontion,” which Kuhn analyzes at some length and then goes on to explore this intellectual context and make a convincing case for its relevance. In the second section, he further examines the main components of Tate’s inheritance from his two principal literary mentors, Eliot and Ransom. He focuses on the modernist version of traditionalism proposed by the former and the “curious theology” presented by the latter in his God Without Thunder, showing in each instance how Tate built on 346 Mississippi Quarterly and—in Ransom’s case especially—modified their ideas. He challenges the notion that Tate was simply a Southern version of Eliot. In a detailed reading of Ransom’s book, he shows how the disciple diverged significantly from the master, who nevertheless showed him a way to rethink the importance of religion in culture and society and of religious myth as a critical concept—key elements in the thought of all three men. Kuhn warns that this “religious imagination” does not designate mere piety but a longing for the transcendent and the tensions, ironies, and conflicts that arise from such a quest for the whole. The central and, by far, longest section is the third, devoted to a number of close readings of individual poems, early and late, as well as to Tate’s novel, The Fathers. The organization of these pages is thematic in basis but broadly chronological. Throughout his book, Kuhn draws on key passages from the poetry and prose, reinforcing and exploring their nuances by constantly placing them in new contexts. He draws on the rich array of philosophical and literary theory at his command, from Augustine, Aquinas, and Abelard toRicoeur,Levinas,andDerrida,tosay nothing of a host of other contemporary thinkers on whom he draws tellingly to illustrate how enduring are the questions that Tate confronted during his lifetime. Those who know the poetry well will discover many insightful interpretations of individual passages and whole poems. The fourth part of the book is given over to three “Tateians”: Richard Weaver, Lewis Simpson, and Walker Percy. Kuhn does not mean to imply that these three men were necessarily disciples. Rather, he sees in them a continuation of the main concerns of a man...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2689-517X
Print ISSN
0026-637X
Pages
pp. 344-347
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-27
Open Access
No
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